Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens talk about 2013 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow after winning the race. Oxbow and Stevens finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby on May 4 but went wire-to-wire in the Preakness Stakes.
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
BALTIMORE – Fans poured into Pimlico Race Course on Saturday expecting to salute Kentucky Derby champion Orb, to send him on his way to Belmont Park with a big shot at becoming the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
The crowd of 117,203, fourth-largest in the history of the track known as “Old Hilltop,” instead wound up toasting two of the sport’s most accomplished elder statesmen, trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens, after those Hall of Famers combined to pull a stunning upset with Oxbow.
The bay colt, sent off as the second-longest shot in the field of nine, rebounded from a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby to lead throughout in gaining an easy 1 ¾-length victory over Itsmyluckyday.
“I get paid to spoil dreams,” Lukas, 77, said after Oxbow faced little early pressure and ran hard late to provide him with his 14th Triple Crown triumph, allowing him to surpass James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons for the all-time lead.
Stevens, 50, showed why he did all of the hard work to return to the saddle, bad knees and all, after seven years away from the game he relishes. “This is why I came back, to win these classic races,” he exulted.
Rosie Napravnik, who achieved the highest finish by a female jockey in the Kentucky Derby when Mylute ran fifth there, raised the bar in the Preakness as well when Mylute came in third. Orb, pinned inside for much of the 1 3/16-mile contest and with his chances apparently compromised by the sluggish pace, never threatened in fourth.
“He was just never real comfortable once he got down in there,” trainer Shug McGaughey said of Orb. “I’m disappointed. I’ll probably be way more disappointed tomorrow, but I know the game. It is highs and lows, probably more lows than highs.”
McGaughey will take some time to plot his next move with Orb, who had ended the trainer’s decades-long pursuit of a Kentucky Derby triumph and was attempting to become the first horse to win the Preakness from the rail since Tabasco Cat in 1994. But his five-race winning streak was snapped with his first defeat since last Nov. 10, when he failed to break his maiden at Aqueduct for a third consecutive start.
“I’m disappointed. It was a great opportunity,” McGaughey said. “We were 3-5 and we finished fourth. I would be disappointed any time you had this kind of opportunity and didn’t get it done.”
Joel Rosario knew he was in trouble with Orb fairly early.
“They were going slow up front and he was fine,” he said. “When I got to the half-mile pole, he had a hard time keeping up. I used my stick to try to get him going. He usually takes you there.
“He always runs hard. But today he never took off. He just steadied. Today was not his day.”
Stevens almost could not believe his good fortune. Oxbow, winning for only the third time in 11 career starts for Calumet Farm, made an easy lead he never relinquished. He loped along for an opening quarter in :23.94, coasted the opening half-mile in :48.60 and went three-quarters of a mile in an unhurried 1:13.26. The final time of 1:57.54 was the slowest for the Preakness since 1961.
“In these classic races, you don’t give up anything you get for free,” Stevens said. “They gave me a free three-quarters of a mile today. I was smiling pretty good midway down the backside.”
When Stevens asked Oxbow to give his all, Lukas had him ready.
“I jumped on him at the quarter-pole and said, ‘Let’s go now and just try and last.’ We did more than last today,” said Stevens, who is a proud grandfather. “When we pulled up, he wasn’t a tired horse.”
The Preakness victory was a record-extending 18th in a U.S. Triple Crown race for Oxbow’s owner Calumet Farm, which last won a classic with Forward Pass in the 1968 Preakness. Calumet bred and raced Triple Crown winners Whirlaway and Citation and has bred the winners of a record 18 classic races as well.
Just when it appeared Lukas’ glory days were behind him, that his legacy was set with four Derby triumphs, five Preakness wins, and four Belmont Stakes scores, he struck again in the middle leg of the Triple Crown and made history.
“I share that record with a very special man in this industry in Sunny Fitzsimmons. And if I never broke it, I was proud of that,” said Lukas, the tireless trainer who spoiled yet another dream.
OXBOW TAKES PREAKNESS FOR STEVENS, LUKAS (SLIDESHOW)